National Security

Incoming Ballistic Missile Alert to Hawaii a False Alarm

Concern is that “false alarms such as this can erode public confidence.” Officials’ priority remains ensuring that alerts such as these are accurate and taken seriously.

Hawaii received an emergency alert warning that a ballistic missile was headed their way and warned to seek immediate shelter on January 13.

“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” the alert read.

Residents and visitors alike waited for additional news, with many enacting their emergency action plans.

38 minutes after the initial alert was sent, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency sent a follow up message notifying those in receipt that the initial alert was a false alarm.

In a press conference later that same day, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi provided additional details about how the alert was mistakenly sent.

False alarm impacts residents

At 8:07 am Hawaii Standard Time, an alert was sent via the State Warning Point system to cell phones of all those in the area. It is possible that this alert was related to a routine internal test that was initiated just minutes before.

The test was during a shift change when a new team was taking over responsibility for the emergency system. According to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the alert was sent because “the wrong button was pushed on this test, it went to an actual event versus a test.”

The State Adjutant General, the commander of the state of Hawaii’s military forces, verified with military personnel at U.S. Pacific Command that no missile had been launched.

At 8:20 am, a cancellation notice was issued via Facebook and Twitter, but it was not until 8:45 that a cancellation alert was sent using the State Warning Point system.

Aftermath of a fake emergency

The individual who initiated the false alarm, as well as other employees at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, will be retrained but not fired, according to Miyagi.

Some considered whether the emergency management system could have been hacked. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency stated in a press release that they looked into that possibility and that “there were no computer hacks to the HI-EMA system.”

Many residents found fault with the long time that it took officials to notify the public that the alert was false. 38 minutes believing that a ballistic middle was headed to the island seemed like a very long time for those immediately affected.

Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, tweeted “the people of Hawaiʻi experienced that in 15 minutes they and their families are going to be dead. Gone. That’s what they just went through.”

Social media was used to spread the word that the alert was a test, with retweets and shared posts sent by Governor David Ige and others. Facebook and Twitter were both used at 8:20 am, 13 minutes after the initial false alert was sent.

Miyagi stated in a press release that a cancellation via the alert warning system was only sent out after “getting authorization from FEMA Integral Public Alert and Warning System.” The 38-minute delay was most likely due to the time it took to get this authorization. Citizens and elected officials still found fault with the response.

Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, tweeted “the people of Hawaiʻi experienced that in 15 minutes they and their families are going to be dead. Gone. That’s what they just went through.” She followed that tweet with a plea for President Trump and other leaders to “take this threat seriously and begin direct talks with North Korea, without preconditions, to de-escalate and denuclearize the Korean peninsula.”

Officials at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency immediately began a review of its cancellation procedures. Their concern is that “false alarms such as this can erode public confidence.” Their priority remains ensuring that alerts such as these are accurate and taken seriously.

The actions that led to the false alarm are under review. Officials intend to release a preliminary report of the investigation next week.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Katie Begley

Katie Begley is a US Naval Academy graduate and former Surface Warfare Officer. In addition to being a military spouse, she is a freelance writer specializing in travel, education, and parenting subjects. Katie has worked in numerous communications roles for volunteer organizations and professionally for a local parenting magazine.

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